On Elections

How people elect parliaments

From here on in: the Republican nomination

image - Trump and Cruz.jpg

“While Donald Trump will reach the convention with a substantial lead over Ted Cruz, he will fall short of the necessary outright majority. The result will be a bitterly fought convention process.” (image: charismanews.com)

The US presidential nomination races of the Democratic and Republican parties are now two-thirds complete.

With a two-week break until New York state votes on April 19, this is a good time to review where the races are positioned, and how things can be expected to pan out from here on.

This post discusses the Republican party race – which is arguably the more interesting of the two. (See also a matching post on the Democratic race.)


The current position

After the recent Wisconsin vote on 5 April – won by Senator Ted Cruz – 40 of the 56 scheduled state and territory delegate selection events have now been held.

Just over 65% of the convention delegates who will choose the Republican nominee for president have now been chosen at primary events.

Around 30% of the delegates are yet to be won by the candidate campaigns in the remaining 21 events.

The final 5% of delegates will, under various state party rules, arrive at the convention not bound to support any specific candidate.

The Republican convention – scheduled to meet in Cleveland, Ohio from 18 July – has a total of 2,472 delegates. Business magnate Donald Trump currently leads conservative Senator Ted Cruz with 755 delegates to 496. Ohio Governor John Kasich holds 144 votes, and withdrawn candidate Senator Marco Rubio 177.



convention delegates 

state delegate majorities

Donald Trump


749  (30.5%)


Senator Ted Cruz


496  (20.1%)


Senator Marco Rubio 


177  (7.2%)


Governor John Kasich


144  (5.8%)


other withdrawn candidates 1,165,486

   15  (o.6%)

yet to be selected

870 (35.2%)

Total delegates




The vote plurality winners by state follow a rough pattern, with Trump support very strong in the south-east of the nation, surrounded by a zone of narrower wins in an arc from Louisiana around to North Carolina. Ted Cruz has a band of support running up the nation west of the Mississippi. Other results are scattered.

US primaries - winners - Republican

State winners of Republican primary elections from 1 February to 5 April (unbound delegate caucus results not shown)

As for the voter turnout, the 2016 Republican primary vote total is currently at 22.0 million votes, making it already the largest turnout of Republican primary participants in history – the previous record being 20.0 million in 2008. With around a third of the nation still to vote, this record should surge even further ahead. The fact that California voters will still be influential on the final day of the season will most likely generate a historic turnout in the nation’s most populous state.


Convention predictions

In short, Donald Trump is almost certain to reach the Cleveland Convention in July in the lead, but not with an absolute majority of delegates.

Under current rules a Republican candidate needs to accumulate 8 state delegation majorities (more than merely plurality wins) to be eligible to put their name forward at the first ballot of the party convention. Trump has qualified, and with 6 states so far Cruz is also expected to qualify. It is, however, very hard to see John Kasich reaching that mark.

The party’s convention rules committee – also an elected and now much-contested entity – has the power to alter that rule, but the committee is likely to be dominated by Trump and Cruz supporters. Cruz supporters would favour forcing the convention to regard their candidate as the only possible alternative to Donald Trump, but they must also avoid Trump winning on the first ballot. The prospects of rule change are as yet beyond prediction.

One of the  unattractive features of the Republican primary process is that several states use winner-take-all or only semi-proportional delegate award rules. This variety in formulas for generating results means that the influence of the actual voters becomes highly unequal. (This contrasts with the Democratic party delegate selection process, where every state allocates delegates in proportion to the vote won by each candidate.)

US primaries - Republican - to go

States with Republican primary elections from 9 April onward; proportional systems shown in brown, winner-take-all systems in red, and semi-proportional systems in orange

In the remaining weeks of the race, only Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island will see Republican convention delegates awarded to candidates in proportion to their public vote.

But there are catches. In New York, a candidate who wins 50% or more of the vote in any district, or across the whole state, is awarded all of the relevant delegates for that part of the contest. So a dominant leading contender can in reality turn proportional ballot into, at best, only a semi-proportional one.

If for example Donald Trump wins 55% of the New York statewide vote, he can expect to accumulate perhaps as much as 80% of the state’s delegates. The better the leader does, the more distorted the result.

New York also has a 20% threshold, so a candidate who wins 19% of the vote in a district, or statewide, earns no delegates there. Thresholds also apply in the later votes in Washington state (20%) and in New Mexico (15%).

Primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Indiana and the big prize of California will follow rules where some delegates are awarded in a winner-take-all basis from the statewide vote total, while parcels of 3 delegates will be awarded in each congressional district on a winner-take-all basis. This system will allow some diversity in delegate awards, but will heavily favour the leading candidate in each state.

This distortionary process applied in the recent Wisconsin primary, resulting in Ted Cruz winning 36 of the 42 delegates with only 48% of the vote.

Four states – Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and New Jersey – will simply award their delegates outright on a winner-take-all basis.

Finally, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will chose delegates who are unbound to supporting a specific candidate.

Since Trump and Cruz seem to have different levels of voter support in different regions, it’s hard to predict how the remaining results will fall out. Every media outfit in the nation is attempting to do so at present. There is a rough consensus forming that while Donald Trump will reach the convention with a substantial lead over Ted Cruz, he will fall short of the necessary outright majority. The result will be a bitterly fought convention process.

The next big Republican event is the New York primary – in Donald Trump’s home state – on 19 April. Assuming he recovers his footing at this vote, it should finally become clear that he cannot be overtaken by Cruz. But it may also become clear that he cannot himself reach a majority. The result will be nearly three months of tactical positioning and dispute about party rules.

What would it take for Ted Cruz to overtake the projection that Trump will have the most delegates at the convention? In short, with a collection of proportional and semi-proportional-system states still in the mix, it is almost mathematically impossible. In his victory speech after winning Wisconsin’s vote Cruz tacitly acknowledged this, claiming that his campaign would “reach 1,237 delegates – either before the convention, or at it“. Only the later is a realistic possibility.

John Kasich cannot realistically hope to even rise above his current third position. But the role of his delegates wins – together with those of Marco Rubio and the wedge of unbound delegates – are essential to ensuring that Trump does not hold a delegate majority.

This explains why most polling agencies – as well as prediction markets such as the Iowa Electronic Market – are recently hedging their bets on the likelihood of Donald Trump becoming the party’s nominee.


The Iowa Electronic Market’s price graph for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as at 6 April. Trump’s price is the green line.

Until just a few weeks ago, it was widely assumed that Trump would be the party’s nominee, after he had burned off all his rivals. But the fact that an internal majority of the party now rejects Trump as an acceptable nominee creates the possibility that an ‘anyone but him’ mood will manage to settle on some alternative.

The beneficiary of this mood may be Ted Cruz, although many in the party reject him also. John Kasich is arguably the most politically tolerable of the three, but choosing him would raise issues as to why two obviously more publicly supported candidates had both been rejected.

The party may choose a candidate from outside the primary contestants so far, such as the fiscally very conservative Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. Previous candidate Mitt Romney is also a possibility. Some talk of Rick Perry. The serious downside that such a candidate would have absolutely no democratic mandate from the primary process might seem to be balanced by an appearance of relative dignity after having stayed free of the vicious primary season.

In any case, it now seems certain that come November the Republican party will put forward a nominee for president who suffers from some form of democratic deficit.


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This entry was posted on April 7, 2016 by in Current issues, United States, US presidential primaries.
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